"North America Great Story Beads"
Timeline and Beads Photos

by Connie Barlow
July 2004


Great Story Beads are used to symbolize the entire 14 billion year story of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity. In 2004, Connie Barlow, strung a set of beads (worn as a double-loop necklace) that symbolizes in more detail just the 65 million year story of the North American continent, since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Now, whenever she goes into classes and presents the North America Story for children, she uses the beads (and a chart of animal pictures) rather than a script to tell the story.

The timeline is presented below. But first, here are a few pictures of the beads, and what they signify:

Bears, felid cats, and mastodons immigrate to North America from Asia during the Miocene epoch. Small green spacer beads distinguish the Miocene from other epochs in the Cenozoic Era. The small red beads surrounding the bear and cat beads signify carnivores.

Golden beads surround the brown nutlike bead, signifying that the coevolution of squirrels and nut trees during the Oligocene epoch (some 32 million years ago) happened right here in North America. Blue spacer beads are used to mark the Oligocene, which is significantly cooler (blue cube) than the previous warm Eocene epoch. Seasonality increases, and spurs the evolution of deciduous trees (autumn red-color tree bead).

Blue beads surround the four creatures who floated (or flew) across seawater to enter North America. Frogs, toads, and whiptail lizards floated north from isolated South America on whole trees washed out to sea. Raven (black bead) flew into all the continents (except South America), after it originated in Australia.

The Miocene (bright green spacer beads) was marked by the evolution of three important plant types: cactus in the Americas (big yellow bead, surrounded by gold to mark North American origination; kelp forests in cool coastal seawaters; and modern grassland ecosystems.

The Pliocene epoch (purple spacer beads) includes a momentous event in American history: the rise of the Isthmus of Panama, connecting South America to North America for the first time in more than 70 million years. The event is both a crisis and opportunity (red and sparkle bead). Now bears and deer and wolves and cats can expand their range southward, while porcupines, possums, armadillos, and giant ground sloths expand north. This "Great American Interchange" ultimately results in the extinction (black bead) of many large South American mammals, brought down either by disease or competition with the new immigrants from the North. Two million years ago, the Pliocene ends, and the Pleistocene (white spacer beads) begins, ushering in the continental glaciers of the Ice Age.

Cenozoic Timeline for North America

(65 to 57 million years ago)

  • [black bead] 65 mya - Meteor impact; dinosaurs go extinct.

  • [red & sparkle bead] Crisis and opportunity.

  • [brown bead] Little mammals survive by sleeping in their burrows.

  • [3 green beads] Ferns waft spores to recolonize devastated lands; deciduous metasequoia (dawn redwood) and ginkgo (below) trees expand their range from the circumpolar Arctic southward into warmer lands of the northern hemisphere.

  • [turtle bead] 63 mya - Turtles also survived the meteor impact by burrowing into mud and now they are more abundant and diverse in North America than at any other time and any other place. This is the "Golden Age of Turtles."

  • [long blue bead + brown cube] 63 mya - The Bearpaw Seaway, the inland sea which covered the mid-section of North America from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico during the time of the dinosaurs, is now beginning to recede as the Rocky Mountains begin to rise.

  • [multi-colored egg-shape] 63 mya - Land now connects the western side of the continent with the east, birthing the North American Continent as a distinct land continent. Because North America is born during the Golden Age of Turtles, the scientific story connects powerfully with the Iroquois creation story of the birth of "Turtle Island."

  • [bird bead of bone] 57 mya - at the very end of the Paleocene, a little bird flies into North America, whose descendants evolve into a 9-foot-tall flightless carnivore: Diatryma (below).

    (57 to 34 million years ago)

  • [beast bone bead] 55 mya - Rhinoceroses and rhinolike brontotheres (below) (both plant-eaters) evolve in Asia and soon immigrate into North America across Beringia (Bering Land Bridge).

  • [the next 2 beads, each surrounded by gold] 55 mya - The camel family (Camelidae) and the horse family (Equidae) originate right here in North America. It will be another 50 milliion years before they expand their range onto other continents!

  • [pink bead surrounded by gold] 40 mya - The dog family (Canidae) originates right here in North America. Note the little red beads next to it, which signify that it is a carnivore.

  • [brown sphere with Asian glyphs] 40 mya - Another carnivore family arises, this time in Asia, and it immigrates to North America. These are the nimravid cats (family Nimravidae, Nim-RAH-vid-ee). Nimravids are completely distinct from the true cats of today (family Felidae), which will evolve much later.

  • [blueish bead with red stripes] 35 mya - Near the end of the Eocene, it is still warm enough for garter snakes to slither into North America from Eurasia, across Beringia. Another kind of snake does that too; its descendants will soon evolve something unique to North America: rattles! Thus we have the birth of rattlesnakes in North America.

  • [the next three beads, each surrounded by blue beads] 35 mya - Storm-toppled trees are swept out the great rivers of South America (which is not yet connected to North America by land), and on these cling three kinds of animals: tree frogs, toads, & whiptail lizards. The debris washes onto the southern shore of North America and these animals disembark and begin thrive and diversify in their new home.

  • [black diamond-like bead, surrounded by blue] 35 mya - Raven evolves in Australia and flies across the sea into Asia, Europe, Africa, and finally North America.

    (34 to 23 million years ago)

  • [blue cube] 34 mya - The Oligocene commences with a marked cooling, caused by the shift in ocean currents when Australia breaks away from Antarctica, so that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current begins.

  • [red tree bead] - The cooling promotes the evolution of deciduous trees that drop their leaves in the autumn.

  • [brown bead surrounded by gold] 32 mya - Squirrels originate right here in North America, prompting the coevolution of nut trees (like oak, beech, hickory).

  • [little brown triangular bead] 30 mya - The Rocky Mountains have been eroding away these past 30 million years, but now a new uplift occurs: the Rocky Mountains rise again!

  • [tornado-shape bead] - Because the mountains in North America trend North-South, with a vast open plain in the middle regions, cold air masses from the Arctic can move unobstructed far to the south, and the reverse holds for warm air from the Gulf. When cold and warm air masses meet, tornadoes result. Because of its landscape, 90% of all the tornadoes in the world happen in North America!

  • [two black beads] 23 mya - Nimravid cats go extinct. Around the same time, the giant brontotheres go extinct.

    (23 to 5 million years ago)

  • [yellow spotted bead] - The Miocene begins with a time of drying conditions in North America, giving rise to the cactus family of plants (Cactaceae), which will remain isolated in the Americas until modern humans and their livestock (seeds ingested) assist in expanding their range worldwide.

  • [bluish bead] - Cool coastal waters of the world give birth to a whole new form of forest never before witnessed on Earth: kelp forests of massive, undulating brown algae (seaweed).

  • [grasslike bead] - Dry conditions also prompt the evolution of an entirely new form of land ecosystem that expresses itself magnificently east of the Rockies: grasslands. The evolution of modern grasses during the Miocene makes this possible.

  • [lumpy gold bead] - Because grasslands have all the parts of leafy green plants within reach of big mammals, and because grasses are unhurt by grazing (because they grow from the base, not the tip), the grasslands make possible "The Golden Age of Mammals" — when large mammals reach a peak of diversity.

  • [elephant bead] 17 mya - Order Proboscidea (elephants) evolve in Africa some 20 mya, spread into Asia, and enter North America for the first time. These early elephants are the mastodons.

  • [white bead surrounded by gold] - A sheep-size, grazing mammal evolves during the Miocene, which provides abundant food for the carnivores. The oreodont evolves right here in North America and will never expand its range beyond this continent.

  • [bear shape] 20 mya - Members of the bear family (Ursidae) cross Beringia into North America, having originally evolved in Eurasia.

  • [cat face] 17 mya - The "cap gap" of 6 million years, which began when nimravids went extinct 23 mya, comes to an end, as felid cats (family Felidae) originate in the Old World and venture into the new. All lions and tigers and other cats today are felid cats.

  • [little orange bead surrounded by gold] 15 mya - The pronghorn (family Antilocapridae) evolves in North America — and will never leave. During the Miocene, this family diversifies, some species sporting 4 or even 6 horns. The only species alive today (below) is the American pronghorn, adapted for open plains.

  • [little yellow bead surrounded by red and gold] - Coevolving with the pronghorn is the only genus of Felid cat to ever originate in North America: the cheetah. The cheetah will later emigrate to Asia and Africa before going extinct in the land of its birth. The American pronghorn today still runs 25 mph faster than a wolf because evolution equipped it to escape from cheetahs, and it has not yet "devolved" to a slower speed. Should we humans "bring back" the cheetah to North America, to keep the pronghorn running fast, and to help prevent cheetahs from going extinct?

  • [brown bead like the tail of a beaver] 9mya - Beavers expand their range from Eurasia by swimming from stream to stream across Beringia and down into North America.

    (5 to 2 million years ago)

  • [earth-toned sphere] 5 mya - The Colorado Plateau is rising, forcing the Colorado River to cut down through sedimentary rock: The Grand Canyon is born!

  • [black angular bead] - Huge volcanic activity happens near the intersections of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Lava pours out across the land, producing the Columbian Flood Basalts, through which today's Columbia River flows.

  • [black sphere and 2 green beads bordered by black] - All this earth upheaval (and disruption of climate when volcanoes erupt) seems to have resulted in some extinctions: rhinos go extinct in North America (but survive in Asia and Africa). Around this time ginkgo and metasequoia trees go extinct in North America, Europe, and most of Asia. These two ancient trees will cling to life only in small parts of China, where they will be rescued by modern humans and re-planted around the world.

  • [bone cylinder] 5 mya - Mammoths evolve in Africa and spread into North America, joining the much-older mastodons here in becoming native to this continent. Mammoths (left) stand tallest at the top of their head, whereas mastodons (right) are tallest at the shoulder.

  • [white pearl & deer bead] - Mountain sheep & deer enter North America for the first time, crossing via Beringia.

  • [amber bead and black&gray bead] - Camels & horses expand their range westward into Asia and Africa for the first time. Zebras alive today are thus descendants of American horses!

  • [pink multicolor] - Humans evolve in Africa.

  • [red sparkle bead surrounded by 2 turquoise] 3 mya - The Isthmus of Panama forms, connecting South America with North America for the first time in 70 million years! This is both a crisis and an opportunity, as The Great American Interchange begins.

  • [white with black lines] - Possums, porcupines, and armadillos begin to expand their range from their homeland of South America into Central and North America.

  • [beige sphere] - Giant ground sloths also venture northward from South America. Notice how they have to walk on the sides of their feet, as they evolved from arboreal ancestors related to South America's tree sloths.

  • [black bead] - Droves of North American animals expand their range into South America: llamas, bears, cats, dogs, coatis, deer, peccary, tapirs, even horses and mastodons for a while. Whether by force or by infectious disease, the invaders from the north cause a great extinction of South America's indigenous animals, including horselike liptoterns (left) and marsupial carnivores (right) that resemble the sabertooth cats of the north.

    (2 million to 13 thousand years ago)
    and Holocene
    (13,000 years ago through today)

  • [blue & white swirll bead] - The Ice Age begins! Massive continental glaciers will cloak Canada and advance well into the United States, and then recede, to be followed by another cycle of advance and recession. This cycle will repeat somewhere between 17 and 22 times, beginning the most recent glacial recession just 18,000 years ago.

  • [green sphere] - Temperate plants migrate southward as the ice advances. Several botanical "pocket refuges" along the Gulf Coast (Tunica Hills of Louisiana and the Apalachicola of the Florida panhandle) maintain the botanical treasures that now comprise our rich deciduous forests of the eastern U.S. Without these refuges, tuliptrees (left), sweet gum trees (middle), magnolias, dogwoods (next), and many herbaceous plants such as Mayapple (right) would have gone extinct.

  • [pearly oval bead] - Polar bears evolve from isolated coastal populations of brown (grizzly) bears in Asia.

  • [yellow bead] 640,000 years ago - Yellowstone erupts in a massive explosion of one of the world's most formidable "supervolcanoes."

  • [bison bead] - Bison cross Beringia from Asia into North America for the first time, rapidly finding a new "home on the range." These are the long now-extinct long-horn bison (below), much larger than our present-day bison.

  • [silver surrounded by red] 13,000 years ago - The Clovis culture of mammoth-hunting humans enter North America for the first time, via Beringia. Other peoples may have entered several thousand years earlier, but the Clovis culture spreads throughout the continent.

  • [black bead] Coinciding with the spread of the Clovis peoples is an "extinction of the massive", perhaps caused by "tame" animals not knowing that these new two-leggeds can kill at a distance. When the big herbivores (ground sloths, mammoths, mastodons) are nearly extinct, the native carnivores (sabertooth cats, dire wolves, giant bears) must prey entirely on camels, horses, shruboxen, giant beavers, and the like, causing a "trophic cascade" and wave of extinctions. The giant tortoises also fall.

  • [3 brown beads] - Three Eurasian herbivores venture into North America to fill some of the ecological gaps left by extinction: Short-horned bison, moose, and elk.

  • [dark brown bead surrounded by red] - Grizzly bears expand into North America, following the extinction of the much-larger giant short-face bear, which had evolved right here in North America and was the biggest mammalian land carnivore of all time, bigger than the European cave bears.

  • [silver bead followed by black bead] - Humans from Europe expand their range into North America, bringing about the loss of 90% of indigenous human populations here, owing to outright killing and through transmitted diseases.

  • [brown oblong bead] - A native returns! Sailing across the Atlantic with the early Spaniards are horses, some of whom escape and thrive as wild horses on the American plains.

  • CLICK HERE to view the list of North America Story programs (for adults and for kids) that can be enhanced by the use of a string of storytelling beads of your own making.

    CLICK HERE to learn more about how you can assemble a string of storytelling beads for yourself: Great Story Beads.

    Home  |  About The Great Story  |  About Us  |  Traveling Ministry and Events
    What Others Say  | 
    Programs and Presentations  |  Metareligious Essays  |  Writings/Rituals
    Great Story Beads  | 
    Online Bookstore  |  Parables  |  Sacred Sites
    Highlights of Our Travels | Favorite Links & Resources  |  Join Us! | WHAT's NEW?